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Could Australia’s worst flu season be a warning to the UK?

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Leaders in the NHS have raised concerns that the UK could be facing an unprecedented demand on emergency services this winter with increased demand due to COVID, flu and on-going staffing issues, following reports that Australia has faced the worst flu season in five years.

 

Australia – which is often seen to be a flu predictor for the UK – has been struck by the worst flu season in five years.

According to the latest figures, the UK is already seeing 10x more people in hospital with the flu than this time last year.

 

The situation

Assessing Australian and UK influenza data from the past 5 years, Joshua Nazareth et al in The Lancet, concluded that:

“Non-pharmaceutical interventions for COVID-19 have resulted in very low levels of circulating influenza globally.

“However, now that these pandemic control measures have been abandoned in the UK, the return of influenza as a major public health issue appears inevitable.

“The measures taken to control the COVID-19 pandemic have created new challenges for managing seasonal influenza. The Australian data provide a warning for an earlier and more severe influenza season in the northern hemisphere.”

 

A triple threat?

Like COVID-19, influenza (flu) kills thousands of people a year and places an extreme amount of pressure on emergency services, particularly in the winter months.

Despite this added risk, both flu and COVID vaccination uptake has decreased in the last year. This leads experts to fear the worst.

 

Danger on the frontline

Also like the coronovirus, influenza can be spread asymptomatically through respiratory particles.

This is particularly dangerous for hospitals and front-line healthcare services – given a) the close-nature of hospital workers with vulnerable patients and b) their high-levels of exposure to patients with influenza and/or COVID.

 

Reducing the risk – PPE

As with all potential hazards in the workplace, measures should be put in place to help reduce the risk to staff and visitors as much as possible.

Appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as aprons, gowns and gloves are an essential tool in preventing cross contamination in hospitals. Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is also highly recommended when dealing with respiratory conditions.

 

RPE

In a report last year, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust found that upgrading their staff from type IIR surgical masks to tight-fitting FFP3 respirators – like the Easimask FSM18 – dramatically decreased the cross contamination rates of their staff.

The study concluded that “cases attributed to ward-based exposure fell significantly, with FFP3 respirators providing 31-100% protection (and most likely 100%) against infection from patients with Covid-19″.

 

Valved vs unvalved

For a tight-fitting FFP3 respirator to work effectively, a seal needs to be formed between the respirator and the wearer’s face – so that when the wearer breathes in, air is inhaled through the filters, cleansing it of any harmful particles.

For protection against asymptomatic viruses such as influenza and COVID, an unvalved respirator is required – so that the wearer’s exhaled breath also passes through the filter.

 

Fit Testing: Suitably adequate

To ensure a tight-fitting seal can be achieved, the HSE requires that any employee required to wear RPE (such as an FFP3) for their work be fit tested. This process assesses if a seal can be achieved on a given make/model of respirator and whether or not it is an adequate fit for the individual.

The fit test itself should be undertaken by a suitably qualified individual, such as one of our Fit2Fit qualified regional trainers.

 

 

For more information on respiratory hazards, respiratory protective equipment or fit testing, please get in touch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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